The Globe and Mail‘s features Lindsay James’ photo-heavy article looking at how North Shore fishers harvest oysters in winter. Fascinating stuff.
“Has anybody not fallen through?” says oyster farmer James Power, as he stands on 15 centimetres of ice in the middle of New London Bay, off the coast of Prince Edward Island.
Mr. Power’s question raises chuckles from his farmhands as they remember their own mishaps on the ice.
“You swim to the edge. It’s actually quite easy,” says Mr. Power, manager of Raspberry Point Oysters. “We’ve had people fall in who actually don’t even get wet they’re out so quick. Nine out of the 10 times that I fall in, it’s one leg and no one sees it. It’s more embarrassing than anything.”
On this December day, the sky is thick with clouds and PEI’s winter oyster harvest in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is in full swing. Hundreds of bays and coves that notch the island’s coastline are covered with ice, creating giant coolers for the prized treasure beneath.
Oyster farmers start when the ice is thick enough, carving holes in it with chainsaws before diving in to haul the oysters over the ice – all to meet the demand for PEI’s world-renowned oysters in wintertime, when they’re at their plumpest and sweetest.
In recent years, the province’s oyster industry has exploded, jumping in value from about $6.3-million in 2000 to $12.8-million in 2015. Last year, PEI produced 3,422 tonnes of farmed oysters, according to Statistics Canada, and this year, the province says it topped that with the biggest catch in history. (About 30 per cent of farmed oysters produced in Canada are grown on PEI, with the bulk of them going to wholesalers in Quebec and Ontario.)